We left on a Thursday. The plan was to leave as soon as Justin got released from work. We always say that’s what we’re going to do, and for some reason we still believe ourselves when we say this. We left hours after he got home. We were scheduled to drive all the way to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and camp there for the night. We made it to Moab and decided that our plan only worked had we left on time. We agreed that we would find a hotel for the evening. As usual, our preference is Best Westerns since we’re part of their rewards program. We found one in the GPS that said it was located in Monticello, Utah, and when I called, the price was shockingly low. I did think it was weird that the hotel desk clerk said that she didn’t need my rewards number for the reservation, but whatever. The GPS then routed us to an address in Blanding, where we were unable to find the hotel. We finally had to call back for instructions, which is when we were made aware that it wasn’t a Best Western. Maybe it was a couple of decades ago. It was old, and looked very suspect, and we then felt that the price was maybe a little stiff for what we were getting. It was late though, and we were too tired to make an issue of it. We left all our bags in the car, for fear of bringing home bugs. However, it turned out to be pretty clean, and the bed was comfy. I’ve definitely stayed in worse.
The next morning we got up early and drove the rest of the way to Mesa Verde National Park. When we arrived Justin went straight into the visitor’s center to get tickets, (this park requires tickets to see the ruins) while I addressed a blowout diaper. Half an hour later I emerged from the bathroom with no wipes, and a baby who had just been bathed in the sink of a public restroom. Thank goodness for the family bathrooms, so at least we were spared having to conduct the bath in front of strangers. We had packed a massive amount of wipes too, so I was able to refill the diaper bag supply. Proof that we are learning.
Our first tour started almost right away. We had just enough time to drive to the trailhead and eat lunch. The tour of Balcony House was supposed to be quite strenuous, and an hour in length. I pretty much hated our tour guide. He yammered on about all the things he didn’t know for almost an hour and a half. The ruins were interesting, he was not. We did not find the tour to be exceptionally strenuous, although there were several ladders and tight squeezes, so I imagine that’s how it got that designation.
|Listening to the ranger talk about how tough the hike will be. It felt like everyone there took a turn staring at Justin and Vivian and whispering in a stage voice that they weren't sure that he was going to make it with her.|
|The longest of the ladders. They said it was 3 stories high, it didn't really feel that high.|
|Trying to keep Vivian happy in the Balcony House while the guide droned on and on about nothing.|
|A small tunnel at the end. She loved it.|
|Getting strapped back on her dad for the ascent back up to the trailhead.|
|The climb back out|
We had quite a break between our two tours, and we had been hoping to use that time to do the self-guided tour of Spruce Treehouse. It’s half a mile in length, and only something like 150 feet descent/ascent. There should have easily been time to do it, but because our first tour guide was so enamored with his own voice, we were left with very little time. The recommended time allotment is about an hour, we completed the entire thing in 15 minutes. As it turns out, this is NOT something we would recommend. The return hike to the parking lot was pretty steep, and we ended up back at the top soaked in sweat where Justin asked someone to take our picture, as we stood there panting. That being said, we did see the ruins. We were not able to scrutinize them, but we were able to make it to our next tour with time to spare.
|A quick picture at the bottom|
|Trying not to look to out of breath for the photo, but really I could barely even speak to the guy who took this photo for us when I handed him the camera.|
As soon as the Cliff Palace tour ended we loaded back into the car and made the hour or so drive to the four corners monument. We had only been in the parking lot a moment or two when Justin attempted to slam his own head in the car door. I have no idea how one even attempts such a thing, but it looked very painful. There was a small amount of blood, some minor concerns about a concussion, and words that are better left unrepeated. He is fine. We waited in line for 45 minutes to take pictures standing in four states at one time.
|It turns out that metal thing we're sitting on was blazing hot, so we couldn't get a picture of Vivian by herself.|
We left the four corners monument and continued on through the Indian reservation to Canyon De Chelly National Monument, where we planned on camping for the night. We had read that this canyon is extraordinarily beautiful, and incredibly underrated. The drive there took forever, and I can honestly say that the canyon is just as beautiful as advertised, so long as you can overlook the neighborhoods of shacks and trailers that are set up throughout the park. Since the land is Indian land, there are still Indians living within the monument, and it appears that many of them are even residing within the campground. We pulled into a trailer park…I mean, campground, that was complete with stray dogs and long-term RV residents. We pulled in, and we pulled back out. We stopped at three overlooks on our way back out. We didn’t get out of our car at the first one because of the diseased stray dog that started chasing the car through the parking lot. We left and decided that although it was already late, and it would take hours more of driving, that we would leave the reservation and find ourselves a hotel for the night. This time we were able to find an authentic Best Western in Eager, Arizona, and we arrived around midnight.
|Canyon De Chelly|
We woke up much earlier than I would have liked the next day, since Vivian had slept the whole way into Eager the night before. We had a long driving day ahead of us anyway, so it was kind of nice to have an early start, and a headstart since we had already covered so much ground the previous night. We left Arizona and began our drive through New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. I don’t know that I was feeling particularly enchanted, although the drive was beautiful, but when we arrived in Silver City, NM, we were definitely not enchanted with officer Torrez, as he wrote me out a speeding ticket. I literally went the speed limit or under all day, except for maybe 10 seconds as I pulled out from a roadside historic marker in front of Officer Torrez. While I was being issued the ticket, Justin’s behavior earned him the nickname “deputy” for the rest of the day.
|The drive through Arizona and New Mexico was beautiful, although this doesn't do it justice.|
We finally arrived at our destination, Rockhound State Park, NM. A sign outside said that we could set up camp in any available spot, but were only allowed to spend one night in any site marked as a “reservation site.” We found an open site that looked ideal, and although it said that it was a reservation site, we figured that if we had to, we could quickly move camp the next morning. Almost immediately, we noticed that the park in general seemed to be exceptionally buggy. The prickly pear cactuses were producing fruit and there had to have been millions of fruit flies throughout the park. They swarmed us. They were undeterred by our bug repellant, and they loved Vivian the most. She looked miserable. Justin was extremely bothered by the number of wasps in our site, and I was getting bitten by the horseflies and gnats, which were also undeterred by bug repellant. All the same, we were there, so we decided to get busy setting up camp.
|A view of the campground.|
We finished eating and struck out on a little rockhounding expedition. There was a display set up on the opposite side of the park that showed what rocks can be found in the park. Each person is allowed to pack away 15lbs. of rocks. Since Justin and I really don’t know what we’re doing we decided that our first order of business would be to consult with said display. We walked across the park, studied the display, learned everything it had to teach us, which really wasn’t much, and started back to our side of the park, to a trail where we could allegedly find some of these rocks. It was a short walk, but by the time we arrived back at our campsite it was clear that a storm was brewing and we decided to delay the rockhounding and move straight into dinner. We had to eat dinner in shifts so that one of us could hold Vivian and keep her from chewing on gravel, or picking up a red ant and mangling it between her fingers before she dropped it on the ground to writhe around in a distorted heap. By the time dinner was over she wasn’t acting herself, and as it turned out she was running a slight fever (thankfully I keep the thermometer in my diaper bag). We decided to drive into town to get her some Motrin, and more ice for the cooler. By the time we got back it was after dark, and we were exhausted. The Motrin kicked in and Vivian showed no interest in sleeping, but after some time we were finally able to settle her down and we all got to sleep much, much later than we had planned.
The next day was Sunday, and we had hoped to attend church in Deming. However, we woke up late after the previous night, and we woke up soaking wet. A big rainstorm had swept through the night before and Justin had slept all night with one of our tent windows open because he was “burning up.” Justin insisted that the tent roof had leaked, but I convinced him that the culprit was actually his open window. We spent all morning emptying the tent, drying out the contents, and moving everything to a new campsite. At that point, we felt that nothing more could go wrong on this portion of the trip. We reported to the visitor’s center (that had weirdly short hours) for a very informative lesson from the campground host, who as it turns out also mans the visitor’s center, on how to find worthwhile rocks in the park. We also asked her about how to spot a Persian Ibex. There is a large herd of them that live in the nearby Florida mountain range. She told us that afternoons in the neighboring Spring Canyon are as good a time as any to see them, so we decided to go there to look for one. When we got out of the car Vivian fell asleep, and we decided to sit in our picnic area for a while and see if we could spot one in the surrounding hills. Hours later, still nothing, but Vivian had woken up with another fever. Another round of Motrin and she bounced back quickly. We decided to take a short easy hike a little ways up the canyon, still hoping to see an Ibex. The hike was fun, but our efforts to observe a wild Persian Ibex failed.
|A huge moth we came across on our hike.|
|The Florida mountain range that is allegedly home to a herd of Iranian Ibex, gifted to the US by the Iranians back in the '70's.|
We returned to Rockhound State Park to take a stroll down a little path, and collect a few rocks. We had an astonishing amount of success. According to the campground host/visitor’s center expert, the park generally gets 8 inches of rain a year. They had received four inches the previous week. All kinds of things had washed down out of the mountains to the trail for easy access. After our walk, we returned to the campsite and had dinner, with the swarms of bugs. They were worse than the previous day, and we were literally covered in gnats and fruit flies. Since Vivian is unequipped to fight them off effectively, she was very upset, and spent a large part of the evening in tears. It took me a little while to realize that her temperature was back, and seemed very high. It was over 104. After a series of calls to nurses and doctors, with both the insurance company and her pediatrician back home, we again found ourselves back at the Walmart in Deming buying up Tylenol to rotate with the Motrin, and Powerade to ward off dehydration. We were having a hard time finding something and I had to go speak to a store employee. If someone sees me on people of Walmart, have mercy. I literally had chunks of baby food hanging off the front of my t-shirt, and I looked every bit the part of a person who had spent the previous night in a tent, a few hours digging in the dirt and warding off swarms of bugs, and I was holding a baby dressed only in a diaper (she blew out her outfit in a horrific diarrhea incident). It was not a pretty sight, and I don’t blame the store employee for looking like she wished that I would leave her alone. In fact, she directed me to an area, said she’d seen the product I was looking for “somewhere around here earlier,” and promptly disappeared.
|Hanging out at camp.|
|A crazy looking grasshopper we came across on our walk.|
After getting to bed late again that night we woke up early enough the next morning, with a seemingly cured baby, to decide to hike up one of the mountainsides in search of agates and thunder eggs, which were allegedly in abundance in the park. Justin carried Vivian. We only made it about halfway up the trail before we arrived at a large outcropping of rock, and the rest of the trail appeared to be completely washed out. Justin got very anxious at the top about making it back down the steep descent with Vivian on his back, and decided to leave me up there to my own devices while he started inching back down on his own. He made it about three feet before he had an encounter with a cactus. I stayed up there and gathered my entire quota of 15lbs. of rocks, and probably half of Justin’s. I had an equally interesting time descending the mountainside carrying an overstuffed bag loaded down with my finds. I found one cactus spine in my side, and another one in my leg later on that evening.
After that we packed up camp, I took advantage of the park’s very clean, warm showers, and we left the park and began our drive to Carlsbad Caverns, where we planned on camping at a nearby state park and attending the bat flight that night. As we were driving we saw signs for the White Sands Missile Testing Facility, and decided to detour over to check out their missile display and museum. We agreed to make it a quick visit. We got Vivian out of her car seat. She was running another fever. The pediatrician I had spoken to the night before said that should her fever continue that we would need to find a doctor who could see her. After a brief call to Tricare, they confirmed that we could in fact take her to be seen at the health clinic on base. We never made it to the museum, and only saw the missile display from the parking lot, but I saw much more of the base and health clinic than I ever supposed that I would. The good news is that an hour later we were back on the road, armed with a diagnosis of an ear infection, and a bottle of Amoxicillin, issued to us from their dispensary. Super convenient. Although it was also super embarrassing since Vivian was covered in bug bites from her stay at Rockhound State Park, which initially freaked out the doctor since the majority of the bites were all over her scalp. This kid really needs to start growing more hair.
We left base and ended up stopping for a brief look around the White Sands National Monument. It is absolutely spectacular, and some day, when it isn’t blazing hot outside, we would love to return to play on the dunes.
|A lizard adapted to the white sands.|
|The sunlight reflecting off the white sands made it so bright you couldn't really look around without squinting.|
|Me, running to the top of a dune.|
After the bat flight we returned to our car and began our drive back to the state park, but a crazy wind had started, the sky was threatening rain, and it was well after dark. We again bailed on another night of camping, and after calling Best Western and harassing the poor woman doing reservations, we found a room with a decent rate in Roswell. It was 90 minutes away, but in the same direction we were headed the next morning, so off we went to Roswell.
We slept in so late that morning that we slept all the way through the free breakfast, and woke up with just enough time for quick showers, and packing before checkout. We left Roswell, eager to be back on the road, but 20 miles or so out of town realized we had an eighth of a tank of gas left, and 100 miles stretching out in front of us before the next gas station. We returned to Roswell for gas, and then embarked on a super long, super boring drive across the nothingness of Eastern New Mexico. We finally arrived in Santa Fe, checked into the time share there, and spent an evening doing some much needed relaxing.
|The drive to Santa Fe was hours of this view.|
The next morning we woke up, and Vivian had broken out in a little rash on her stomach. It didn’t seem all that bad, and she wasn’t acting bothered by it at all, so we set out for Tent Rocks National Monument. Tent Rocks is beautiful, and for the best views you have to travel through a very narrow slot canyon. Much to our annoyance this slot canyon is too narrow to pass people in there, and some very out-of-shape people, who didn't appear to know anything about hiking (there was a lady trying to push a stroller) seemed to find this particular hike enticing. It was super slow going, and the large groups of mostly unsupervised school children were also a test in patience. One that I was failing. We finally made it into the most scenic part of the hike, and the more difficult portion, where we realized that many of those people struggling earlier on just gave up and turned back. The views from the top of the ridge were amazing, and made the whole experience worthwhile.
|We backed up a whole line of people behind us to take this picture. We waited forever to go through this part because of all the people coming down first. It was definitely too narrow to pass in this area.|
|She was very happy about the chance to actually touch the canyon walls.|
|Since the walls of the canyon are not nearly as smooth as they look this pose turned out to be kind of uncomfortable on the hands.|
|Justin loves this sign.|
After Tent Rocks we drove for about an hour to Los Alamos, home of the Manhattan Project. We toured a museum there about the project, and watched a video. As always, Vivian provided intermittent shouts of enthusiasm, and she inexplicably broke into laughter over the photos of the first test bomb being detonated. Thankfully, no one else in the theater seemed to mind.
When we finally returned to the timeshare we noticed that the rash had start to spread to her legs, and when I lifted her shirt it was terrible. Large red welt looking things had developed all over her chest, back, and were starting to creep out onto her limbs and neck. After another call with the pediatrician we were advised to make yet another medicine run for Benadryl, and find an urgent care facility the next day. She has apparently developed an allergy to Penicillin. We had hoped to leave Santa Fe very early that morning, but instead Justin and Vivian spent the morning at the urgent care while I stayed back and repacked. We barely made checkout time, and spent another hour or so hanging out at the Walmart pharmacy filling new prescriptions.
|Hanging out waiting for Dad to get off the phone with the pediatrician and give us the verdict.|
|The lighting wasn't the best, but it looked pretty bad, and covered her entire trunk.|
|We discovered that she loves corn on the cob.|
We had hoped to arrive in Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado early, since everything we read online said that the campground there fills up very quickly. It turns out, that’s true. We arrived around 6pm, and the ranger at the gate suggested a couple of alternate locations. There was one just a few miles away, and San Luis Lake State Park, 10 miles down the road. We decided to skip the closer park and go straight out to the lake. We ended up being so glad that we stayed there. First, there is a bear problem in the park. There are no bears at the lake. I consider this to be a HUGE plus. Second, the park was relatively empty. Although the sites were small, and very close together, we had only one neighbor several sites down the first night. Third, the lake itself was beautiful. It was teeming with interesting birds that fascinated Vivian, and the banks of the lake were literally moving with thousands of tiny little frogs the size of my thumbnail and smaller. We tried to hurry and set up camp, but ran into trouble with our broken tent pole. One of the now loose pieces was missing the little metal band that holds the two tent poles together. After a long period of deliberation, we were able to find a remedy of sorts by using a small green, flexy twig to connect the two pieces of pole, and then reinforce the area by using one of my hairbands to strap an extra tent stake to serve as a crude splint. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.
|The Rio Grande on our drive into Colorado|
|Obviously still not perfect, but it did hold. I kicked myself later for not thinking to use a bobby pin instead of the twig, since it would have been much sturdier. Once it was in place I wasn't willing to mess with it though.|
We then returned to the park to see a few overlooks of the dunes, and wade through the freezing cold waters of Medano Creek, that runs in front of the dunes and must be crossed in order to reach them.
|She didn't like walking on the sand, so this whole idea of her strolling along next to me was pretty short-lived.|
|The only place we've seen a prettier sunset was Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument|
When we returned to our campsite, we discovered that the big downside to the lake is the swarms of mosquitoes that emerge in the evening. At least the bug repellant worked on them. We left early the next morning and set out to hike the dunes. My feet were frozen by the time we got across the creek, but everything we read said that the temperature of the sands can reach 150 degrees, even on an 80 degree afternoon.
Hiking the dunes gave me flashbacks of marching in sand at basic training. It’s miserable and exhausting. By the time we reached the top of the first set of dunes I told Justin that was far enough, but he prodded us on to the second highest dune in the park/North America. (The highest dune is clear out on the end of the dune field, and frankly doesn’t look worth the effort.) I’m glad that he did. The views were spectacular, and coming back down the dunes is actually kind of fun. Although, it seems that we will never be entirely rid of the sand from the experience.
|Hard to say here who is more excited about getting started.|
|Okay, definitely Vivian.|
|Halfway up the first dune and I was already taking a break.|
|Waiting at the top of the dune for me to stop using the camera as an excuse to prolong my break.|
|At least I ended ahead of them, although granted I also wasn't carrying quite the same load.|
|From on top of the first dune. First of many.|
|This is where I told Justin I was happy not continuing forward, but he wasn't having it.|
|This guy scared me half to death when it flew over and first landed on the front of my shirt before I brushed it off to my leg, in one of those wild and unflattering moments of flailing hands and panic.|
|On top of the second highest dune in North America. Vivian didn't seem really taken with the guy who offered to snap this picture. Don't mind the socks. My husband already makes fun of me every time I wear these pants and socks together.|
|The dune field that continued on in front of us. We didn't feel a need to go farther, thankfully.|
|After sliding down a dune with her dad. She was squealing and laughing the whole time.|
|That tiny speck is my people.|
|During lunch we took our first trip out to the lake.|
|These are the little frogs that were everywhere out there.|
|Vivian was captivated by the birds.|
|Watching the frogs.|
|Just taking it all in.|
|The dune field off in the distance.|
We returned to the park in the late afternoon to let Vivian play in the creek. We had envisioned her wading in it. She was not satisfied with merely wading in the creek, she chose to turn it into a swim. She loved it. The water was bathtub temperature, and this late in the summer ran at the perfect depth for someone her size. We spent a decent amount of time there, not as long as she would have liked, but we needed to leave before the water temperature started dropping and the mosquitoes came out to join her.
|Already fighting to sit down.|
|She won that fight pretty quickly.|
|Trying to bury herself in the mud the way we had buried her legs in the sand on the dunes earlier in the day.|
|With our naked wet baby on the way back to camp.|
By the time we got back to camp it was starting to sprinkle. By the time we were done with dinner it was raining pretty hard, and showing no signs of letting up. We climbed in our tent a little before sunset only to discover that Justin was right, I was wrong, the tent was leaking. The sleeping bags miraculously still seemed mostly dry. The floor of the tent had areas of standing water. We ended up identifying a major leaking area above the bed, and felt that if nothing else could be done, we at least needed to address that spot. After some consideration, I sewed a diaper to the ceiling of the tent using a sewing kit that I picked up at that first hotel we stayed in back in Blanding. It actually helped, and we stayed dry all night. The same cannot be said for our belongings. We woke up the next morning to pools of water all over the floor, and stumbled out of our tent into a foggy morning to stare at our two new neighbors who had arrived in the middle of the night. One in particular had made a high volume arrival. It was a little family with two kids. The kids weren’t the problem. The mother woke us up yelling at the kids to be quiet so that they didn’t wake up the people who were trying to sleep. Sage advice, too bad the lady dispensing it hadn’t bothered to take it to heart.
|We walked out to the lake that morning to wait for the sun to burn off the fog so we could dry our stuff out.|
Justin and I were very amused watching our new neighbors. We referred to them as the REI couple, since they appeared to have little to no camping experience, but were dressed as though they had just stepped from the pages of an REI magazine. The mother reprimanded both of her children (Nova (female), and Sagan (male)…initially we had wondered if they are from Utah) for touching the dirt, apparently not realizing that camping usually takes place outside. Shortly thereafter, she stared in shock as I shouted at Vivian to stop eating, and hollered over to Justin that she had just consumed half a rabbit pellet. Very gross.
It took us a couple of hours to get camp cleaned up. Everything had to be pulled from the sopping wet tent and laid out to dry. We went back and forth about what to do with the tent itself, and then finally after surveying a tent with standing water and sand in the bottom, a broken pole, and a diaper sewn to the ceiling, we decided it was time for us to part company. It’s over a decade old, and we were already talking about getting an upgrade. We finally decide to leave it behind in the campground dumpster. It had definitely seen it’s day.
Again, we were off to a late start, but we enthusiastically blasted across Colorado to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We stopped at the visitor’s center, ate lunch, drove the south rim trail, visited some overlooks, and took way too much time doing all of that. By the time we got back on the road for the 6 hour drive home it was very late.
|This canyon is deeper and more narrow than the Grand Canyon, and frankly more impressive.|
|From the Painted Wall overlook|
|Looking every bit the part of a family at the end of a camping trip/10-day road trip.|
|The day before her 1st birthday, this was Vivian's 12th National Park. I don't think we'll be able to maintain that average for her second year.|